Les Troyens Opera in two parts (The Capture of Troy & The Trojans at Carthage) and five acts; libretto by the composer after Virgils Aeneid
Aeneas Ben Heppner
Dido Michelle De Young
Cassandra Petra Lang
Anna Sara Mingardo
Corebus Peter Mattei
Narbal Stephen Milling
Iopas Kenneth Tarver
Hylas Toby Spence
The Ghost of Hector Orlin Anastassov
Panthus Tigran Martirossian
Ascanius Isabelle Cals
Priam Alan Ewing
Hecuba Guang Yang
London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Colin Davis
CD No: LSO LIVE LSO 0010 CD (4 CDs) Duration: Reviewed: December 2001
LSO Live - Trojans
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
The concert performances of Berliozs The Trojans, which graced the Barbican Hall three times between 3-9 December 2000 (and from which these CDs are taken), were unforgettable experiences. I was in no doubt after the two performances I attended that The Trojans is one of the very greatest operas and that in Sir Colin Davis it has an interpreter of rare dedication and perception. I think we knew that already though!
Its difficult to imagine this astonishing epic being better realised. The LSOs playing is alive to every nuance, detail and expressive gesture in the score. Within ten minutes one has the sheer quality in focus the deft articulations of woodwind and brass, the vitality and devotion of the LS Chorus, Sir Colins absolute belief in every note, the warmth and poetic weight of the LSOs strings, so telling in the sustained backdrop to recitatives, and Petra Langs intense assumption of the ill-fated Cassandra, which sets the soloists standard, one upheld quite remarkably.
This is dramatic stuff the listener is hooked. The Greeks have suddenly disappeared after a ten-year siege of Troy. They have left the fabled wooden horse. Only Cassandra has a sense of foreboding that is borne out by the close of Act 2 she kills herself. (Berlioz saw The Trojans as a one-night, five-act production; the two parts came about by dint of Parisian opera-house doubts and restrictions.) Come The Trojans at Carthage, Aeneas, who escaped Troy, is en route to Italy to form a new Troy Rome and lands at Carthage. Queen Dido and he are attracted. By the close, she has committed suicide, forlorn at Aeneass leaving.
The Trojans is a hugely involving opera. Its all to do with Berliozs astute sense of characterisation, his astonishing use of the orchestra, both as an emotional vessel and through fantastic innovation, and the wonderful musical invention. Within the first minutes, ones core has been stolen by a melody of ineffable loveliness, 138-154 (track 3), by Daviss control of line and dynamics and his complete identification, and then by the depth with which Lang reveals Cassandras heartache; Berliozs harmonic complement and (Beethovenian) humanity seals it.
Emerging out of Gluck and pre-empting Wagner, The Trojans is both pivotal and visionary. The use of recitative, the requirement for set-pieces ballet as determined by conventions of the day, do not compromise the continuity of the narrative; Berliozs genius is such that nothing seems out of place. Things like Act Ones Wrestlers Dance, Act Threes entry of builders, sailors and farm-workers and the Act Four ballet music are more than tolerable thanks to Berliozs wealth of ideas and Daviss integration of them and his belief is unwavering.
The Trojan March is in a different league, so too the National Anthem; both enshrine Trojan spirit. Royal Hunt and Storm is an elevated creation of musical nature-painting (pre-empting Wagners Forest Murmurs), and also when Dido and Aeneas get it together (so to speak!) here wonderfully atmospheric, then thrilling, with fine use of distant perspectives.
Daviss sustaining of interior scenes, the revealing of characters intimate feelings, and his projection of public display is equally persuasive. As Dido, Michelle De Young is imperious; Ben Heppners Aeneas is charged their Act 4 Love Duet is rapt and starlit. The other parts are all taken with distinction and, more important, a sense of belonging to something very special Toby Spences plangent tenor and Peter Matteis subtly shaded Act 1 cavatina (track 5) being especially memorable.
The recording is superbly vivid, cleanly balanced, the medium of an extraordinary undertaking great music, great conducting, inspirational performing. At £20, this set, with full notes, synopsis and French/English text, is a steal.